The Way We Were
By Craig Young
19th April 2017 - 10:17 am
In this, the first of three Politics and Religion farewell articles, I'll be doing an historical retrospective of LGBTI life and times in New Zealand/Aotearoa covered by Gaynz over the last decade and a half.
Jay Bennie contacted me in 2002 asking me if I'd like to contribute to the new nonprofit LGBTI New Zealand news and current affairs website Gaynz. I accepted, and therein began a period of fifteen years of coverage. Given that I have an MA (Honours) from the University of Canterbury, my contributions eventually mutated into the Politics and Religion section of the website. Later on, I also acquired a blog, which was originally known as Proclamations of the Red Queen, but which has been abbreviated to Red Queen nowadays.
Anyway, enough of me. During the tenure of Gaynz, we have witnessed three New Zealand Prime Ministers- Clark, Key and English; while in Australia, there have been five during the same period- Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull, and the United Kingdom went through four- Blair, Brown, Cameron and May. The United States had three presidents during this time, ranging from the inane (George W.Bush) to the sublime (Barack Obama) to the ridiculous (Donald Trump).
As for LGBTI rights in New Zealand, therein lies a tale. At the beginning of this period, the newly minted Labour/Alliance coalition (as it then was) was debating the Prostitution Law Reform Act. Unfortunately for the course of steady political debate, the Alliance developed fratricidal tendencies when the party caucus and elements of the party organisation turned on Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton, the Wigram MP. The consequence was a messy civil war, and the far left Alliance disappeared into political marginality and oblivion, while Anderton carried on with Matt Robson as the Progressive Coalition, a Labour satellite microparty for the tenure of the Clark administration. The Greens would have had a box row seat for replacement coalition partner, except that they decided to make a genetically engineered food moratorium a bottom line, which the Clark administration refused to entertain. In the consequent melee, Peter Dunne performed better than expected in a leadership debate and brought in a stealth fundamentalist carpetbagger caucus in 2002. At that point, the divided and factionalised National Opposition suffered its worst election defeat under Bill English, the concurrent Leader of the Opposition. From having a robust pragmatic majority, prostitution law reform became a fraught proposition, eventually passing in 2003 after Muslim Labour MP Ashraf Choudary's abstention, much to the displeasure of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand. Transgender street sex work was consequently decriminalised, despite an unpleasant localised South Auckland moral panic against the presence of these Maori and Pacific Island workers on Hunters Corner in Papatoetoe. Two anti-streetworker bills came to nothing due to opposition from the medical profession which gave authority to the Prostitutes Collective.
In its second term, the Clark administration moved to introduce civil unions and relationship equality legislation, within the Civil Unions Bill and the accompanying Statutory References Recognition Bill. The Civil Union Bill 2004 set out an alternative format for relationship recognition ceremonies, while the Statutory References Recognition Act did the 'heavy lifting work' the next year and provided equal rights and responsibilities for same-sex couples, except in the area of inclusive adoption law reform, despite New Zealand Law Commission recommendations to the contrary. The Civil Unions Bill eventually passed (49-44), although the exclusion of inclusive adoption reform grated and may have affected the uptake of civil unions as a consquence. Unfortunately, the replacement Leader of the Opposition, former New Zealand Reserve Bank Governor Don Brash, accepted slush money for logistical support from the Exclusive Brethren sect and opposed civil unions as a result. When investigative journalist Nicky Hager disclosed this in his book The Hollow Men, it cost National the 2005 New Zealand General Election and ultimately led to the overthrow of Brash as Leader of the Opposition. He was subsequently replaced as National leader by charismatic former foreign exchange dealer and millionaire John Key, who turned out to be a social liberal. The National Party did considerable grandstanding over the consequent Electoral Finance Act. Unfortunately, the New Zealand First caucus ended up in a better position than the Greens due to the electoral Exclusive Brethren smear campaign, so along with United Future it entered a confidence and supply agreement and consequently, any further movement toward same-sex marriage proper and inclusive adoption reform was postponed, although refreshingly, Leader of the Opposition John Key said he supported any such move during leadership interviews conducted by the Christian Right's Maxim Institute. In 2008, there was a global financial crisis and consquently, the Clark administration was defeated after a record nine years in office, the best performance by an incumbent Labour-led government since the days of Michael Joseph Savage and Peter Fraser in the thirties and forties.
In 2008, the long Clark era ended and John Key's National-led government took over instead. In terms of its coalition partner, ACT (the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers), history promptly repeated itself as it was torn apart by infighting and leadership instability, decimated to a single MP, first the former Whangarei National MP and two-term non-consecutive Auckland Mayor John Banks, then the more moderate and social liberal David Seymour, the incumbent Epsom MP. Key made noncommital noises about marriage equality, although when then-Labour List MP Louisa Wall introduced her Marriage Amendment Bill in 2012, he promptly signed up and with him went the more obedient and liberal members of his caucus. With support from United Future, the Greens and ACT as well, the outcome was one-sided- 77-44 at its third reading. Civil marriage equality became a reality several months later. As well as that, provocation defence abolition also occurred beforehand. The current National Party Justice Minister Amy Adams is talking about a retrospective pardon for criminalised consensual gay sexual 'offences' before the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986 and decriminalisation. Unfortunately, however, the issue of transgender rights has proven more intractable. During the Clark administration, Solicitor General Michael Cullen released a Crown Law Office opinion that 'read' gender identity into 'sex', meaning that gender identity was 'already' covered under the legislation. Despite the fact that Australia and the United Kingdom have both directly added gender identity to their anti-discrimination legislation, and Canada's provincial and federal governments are in the process of doing so, New Zealand is the lone person out in the core British Commonwealth. Even India includes its gender minorities within federal anti-discrimination legislation, as is the case in Pakistan and Bangladesh, its Muslim majority neighbours.
However, thanks to courageous Auckland transwoman Dakota Hemmingson, it was subsequently adjudicated that employment relations law did cover transpeople, indicating that the Crown Law Office opinion does have the force of law. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education is quietly but steadily recognising the right of transgender children and adolescents to educational access, despite attempts by Christian Right presssure group Family First to rant and rave about the issue, to little effect. Meanwhile, other issues await on the horizon- comprehensive anti-bullying legislation and prohibitions on unneccessary surgery for intersex infants.
In the second of these three retrospective articles, I will take a look at international LGBTI developments during the past fifteen years, before the third and final article deals with the New Zealand Christian Right, our lacklustre and incompetent opponents.
Nicky Hager:The Hollow Men:Nelson: Craig Potton: 2006.
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